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International lenders pore over Greek reforms as strike looms

[ATHENS] Greece's international lenders began reviewing on Monday its progress in implementing reforms set out in a multi-billion euro bailout deal to assess whether it has done enough to secure debt relief in future.

Cash-strapped Greece is facing challenges on various fronts as it struggles to win public approval to overhaul the pension system and cut more costs while its EU peers urge it to tighten controls on the flow of migrants passing through on their way to northern Europe.

The mission chiefs of the country's creditors - European institutions and the International Monetary Fund - are scheduled to hold meetings throughout the week.

Labour unions have called a nationwide walkout for Feb 4 to protest a proposed reform of the social security system, as demanded by the creditors. The overhaul would leave the Greek people digging deeper into their pockets to safeguard the viability of the pension system.

"We will address the two major issues this week, pension and the fiscal (situation). Then we will break for 7-10 days and after that the lenders' representatives will return and stay for two weeks to close the first review," a minister who participated in Monday's meeting told journalists.

The two sides will examine the pension reform proposal and ways to cover fiscal deficits until 2018, the minister, who declined to be named, told journalists.

Athens is keen for a speedy completion of the review, which was expected to begin late last year. It is hoping a positive outcome will boost economic confidence and liquidity and pave the way for debt-relief talks.

To secure a positive review Athens must pass legislation to make the social security system viable and devise measures to attain primary budget surpluses for 2016 to 2018.

Sources close to the lenders said they were still reviewing the efficiency of the proposal and had yet to agree on the scale of fiscal savings to be made.

Earlier on Monday, a government official said Greece expects to have achieved a marginal primary surplus in 2015, up from earlier forecasts of a deficit. "This better result will help us during the negotiations with lenders on ways to cover this year's fiscal gap," the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Athens had been forecast to post a primary deficit of 0.25 per cent of gross domestic product in 2015, according to its bailout programme, and a 0.5 per cent surplus this year.

REUTERS